25 June 2004
A government programme to support disadvantaged families with young children is already delivering visible benefits, according to preliminary results of a long-term evaluation project.
Early findings from the National Evaluation of Sure Start were published on June 23. They showed that the scheme is helping to improve parenting skills.
In Barnsley, nursery children showed good progress in language development, with 14 out of the 20 children concerned attaining levels of understanding well above normal development limits.
In Sunderland, Sure Start evaluators observed that 80% of mothers on the programme improved the way they talked to and interacted with their babies.
Children's minister Margaret Hodge said a child's relationship with its parent was a factor in influencing behaviour and educational attainment.
'The extent to which some programmes are helping young children develop their speech and language skills is striking,' she said.
In this year's Budget, Chancellor Gordon Brown announced that there would be 1,700 Sure Start centres by 2008, covering 20% of the most disadvantaged wards.
But Jonathan Stearn, director of the campaign group End Child Poverty, criticised patchy provision. 'This research confirms that Sure Start works for both parents and children. However vast swathes of the country are left without access to these schemes,' he said.